Max Hardy, 40, dies; Helped bring chef-driven cuisine to Detroit

Max Hardy, who helped bring a new level of chef-driven yet accessible cooking to his native Detroit, and who was widely considered one of the most promising black culinary stars of a younger generation, died Monday. He was 40 years old.

His publicist, David E. Rudolph, announced the death but provided neither the cause nor the location. He said Mr Hardy was in good health as recently as the weekend.

Although he was born in Detroit, Mr. Hardy moved with his family to South Florida when he was young. As an aspiring chef, he drew inspiration from the region’s Latin American influences, as well as his mother’s Bahamian heritage, mastering dishes like jerk pork ribs, fried plantains and ackee and salt fish, the national dish of Jamaica. He married these influences with a deep love for South Carolina Lowcountry cuisine, like shrimp and grits, fish fry and hoppin’ John.

After more than a decade as the private chef to basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire, followed by a few years in New York kitchens, he returned to Detroit in 2017 to open a series of prestigious restaurants, including River Bistro, Coop Caribbean Fusion and Jed’s Detroit, a pizza and wings shop.

He worked constantly and with entrepreneurial energy. He had his own lines of chef clothing and dry spices. He partnered with Kellogg’s to bring plant-based products from the company’s Morningstar Farms brand to restaurants like his. And he appeared regularly on Food Network shows like “Chopped” and “BBQ Brawl.”

Until recently, Detroit was a foodie desert, with few options beyond fast food and chains. But in the 2010s, a wave of young chefs like Mr. Hardy began to change the city’s image.

“He had sort of a reputation as a personal chef for a very important NBA player, but I found that he came back to town with very little ego,” said Kiki Bokungu Louya, chef and executive director of the NBA. Detroit non-profit association. Food Academy. “He was really willing to know who was already doing the work on the ground. »

He founded his own nonprofit, One Chef Can 86 Hunger, which raises awareness about food insecurity and healthy eating, particularly among youth. During the government shutdown in 2019, he offered free lunches to furloughed federal workers; during the pandemic, he opened pop-up kitchens to feed at-risk Detroit residents.

“When I can go into a kitchen and prepare meals for 500 or 1,000 people, it nourishes me and takes me out of the daily grind of the restaurant,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2021. “It’s in makes peace for me. cooking for a few hundred people and giving back. And it feeds the soul. It feels really good to do it.

In 2017, The New York Times named Mr. Hardy one of “16 Black Chefs Changing America’s Food” (Ms. Louya was one of the others), not only for his cooking skills, but also for his desire to push the boundaries of cooking. what defines a successful gourmet chef.

“Growing up in Detroit, you didn’t see chefs and restaurants elevated to this extent,” he told the Times. “It was Motor City, not Food City. Now I can invent a dinner based on the recipes of Hercules, a slave who was George Washington’s personal chef, and I can have my restaurant and I can teach the children in the community. There are many other ways to achieve excellence as a chef.

Maxcel Hardy III was born on December 5, 1983, in Detroit and moved to Tampa, Florida as a child. His first love was basketball, but an injury in high school ended his dreams of a serious career.

His high school had recently opened a culinary arts program, and he quickly found himself under the mentorship of his principal. He worked at Ruby Tuesday after school and won a scholarship during his senior year to continue his education at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami.

By age 21, he was executive chef at a Miami-area country club, and a few years later had his own luxury catering business. From 2009 to 2014, he served as the full-time personal chef to Mr. Stoudemire, who played primarily for the Knicks at that time. The two published a cookbook, “Cooking With Amar’e,” in 2014.

Survivors include his mother and two daughters.

Mr. Hardy’s first restaurant in Detroit, River Bistro, closed after a few years, but by then he had opened two more. He was working on a third, specializing in fish, when he died.

“My goal is to always open restaurants downtown to help employ the community while providing great food,” Mr. Hardy told the Eater Detroit website in 2022. “I find that even though it can being easier to open in a larger suburban area, , this is typical and would only serve me.

“Food is at the center of everything,” he continued, “and I want to create restaurants that help support communities in need. I also try to show that you can open successful restaurants in your hometown. »

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